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In June 1981, scientists in the United States reported the first clinical evidence of a disease that would later become known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Its cause, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was identified in 1983.
Since the start of the epidemic around 78 million (71 million–87 million) have become infected with HIV and around 35 million (29.6 million–40.8 million) people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. In 2015, there were 36.7 million (34.0 million–39.8 million) people living with HIV.
HIV is found in the bodily fluids of a person who has been infected – blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. It can be transmitted through unprotected sexual contact. It is also spread among people who inject drugs with non-sterile injecting needles, as well as through unscreened blood products. It can spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding when the mother is HIV-positive.
Over the ensuing decades, the rate of infection soared dramatically, as did the rate of fatalities. In 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV. But eventually, new antiretroviral treatment began to extend the lives of those who were infected. As of December 2015, 17 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy, up from 15.8 million in June 2015 and 7.5 million in 2010. At the same time, even though new HIV infections have declined, there are still an unacceptably high number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths occurring each year. In 2015, around 2.1 million people were newly infected with HIV and 1.1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
New HIV infections have fallen by 6% since 2010 (by 50% among children) and AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 45% since the peak in 2005. The global response to HIV has averted 30 million new HIV infections and nearly 8 million (7.8 million) AIDS-related deaths since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set.
The UN family has been in the vanguard of this progress. Since 1996, its efforts have been coordinated by UNAIDS — the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS is an innovative joint venture of the United Nations family, which brings together the efforts and resources of 11 UN system organizations to unite the world against AIDS. These are: UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, the ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank.
Goals to end AIDS
Millennium Development Goals
In 2000, at the General Assembly’s Millennium Summit world leaders set specific goals to stop and reverse the spread of HIV. Heads of State and Representatives of Governments issued the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS which set out a series of national targets and global actions to reverse the epidemic. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was created in 2002. And in 2006, the Assembly held a high-level review of progress made since its special session, adopting a 53-point Political Declaration on the way towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.
World leaders gathered in New York in June 2011 for the General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS. The promises they made defined the next steps in the global AIDS response.
In 2015, the world delivered on the AIDS targets of Millennium Development Goal 6—halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic. This remarkable achievement marks the first time a global health target has been met and exceeded. By mid-2015, the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy reached nearly 16 million—double the number just five years earlier.
The world has halted and reversed the spread of HIV. The epidemic has been forced into decline. New HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have fallen dramatically since the peak of the epidemic. Now the response is going one step further—ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Sustainable Development Goals
Ending AIDS by 2030 is an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were unanimously adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015. The lessons learned in responding to HIV will play an instrumental role in the success of many of the SDGs, notably SDG 3, good health and well-being, and the goals on gender equality and women’s empowerment, reduced inequalities, global partnerships and just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
Fast–Track to end AIDS
To take the AIDS response forward, UNAIDS has developed a Fast-Track approach to reach a set of time-bound targets by 2020. The targets include 90% of all people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status having access to treatment and 90% of people on treatment having suppressed viral loads. They also include reducing new HIV infections by 75% and achieving zero discrimination.
- 2016 UNAIDS Fact Sheet
- AIDS by the numbers
- 2016 High-level meeting on ending AIDS
- Fast-Track – Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030